Sunday, May 5, 2013

Waiting Rooms

“What’s the deal with waiting rooms at Doctor’s offices?  Why is this the only place where Germans are friendly?”  These two questions are best read using your Jerry Seinfeld voice, but have been a question that I have posed to many Germans.  I haven’t heard a sufficient answer yet. 
Whenever you go to the Doctor, you must address the group of people in the waiting room with a friendly Guten Tag or Guten Morgen each time.  At first I thought this was really strange, but waited to say anything until I had more experience in Doctors waiting rooms.  After many appointments with various Doctors in various cities, every time, people young and old address the others in the waiting room without fail.  Even more annoying is that when you are in the waiting room, you are obligated to echo hello back with the other ten people in the waiting room.  Dirty looks will be given to those who do not participate.
It is most consistently weird thing I have ever seen.  What’s more is that these are the same people who won’t even look at you passing by on the sidewalk.  In fact, you are much more likely to get an F-you stare down (they don’t actually say it, but you can read it in their eyes and on their face) than a friendly hello.  The Doctor’s office is the last place I want to be friendly and be obligated to greet each person, but somehow this is the place. 
The only explanation I get from other Germans about this phenomenon is that there is a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ in a waiting room so you should be friendly with each other.  While that may be true, the theory should hold for other venues where the situation is more dire, like riding the bus or train together on the public transportation system (those who ride each day with the Deutsche Bahn know what I mean.) Unfortunately, my experience with public transportation couldn’t be further from the truth.  For example, I took the same hour long bus trip from Borken to Münster with the same people for 18 months and never once talked to anyone.  Barely even eye contact.  The only way I knew them was by the nicknames I had developed in my head, such as the ‘Salty Russian’ and my least favorite bus driver, who I called ‘Clutch’ (named that way because he would always stall the bus when under pressure in heavy traffic).  
So, dear German readers, can someone explain this to me?  Maybe there is an old tradition or something that I would be really interested in hearing.  Any insight would be very helpful.

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